Saturday 16 February 2019

WH Smith enjoys ‘strong’ trading as travel sales continue to shine

The retailer reported a 2% fall in high street like-for-like sales in the 20 weeks to January 19, while travel sales rose 3%.

WH Smith hailed a ‘strong’ trading performance over Christmas (Philip Toscano/PA)
WH Smith hailed a ‘strong’ trading performance over Christmas (Philip Toscano/PA)

By Holly Williams, Press Association Deputy City Editor

Retailer WH Smith has cheered a strong performance as its high street stores saw stable Christmas trading and sales lifted across its burgeoning travel arm.

WH Smith reported a 2% fall in high street like-for-like sales in the 20 weeks to January 19 – in line with trading in the first eight weeks – but saw a 3% rise in comparable sales across its larger travel division.

Overall group like-for-like sales remained flat in the 20-week period.

Stephen Clarke, group chief executive of WH Smith, hailed a “strong” trading performance.

He said: “High street delivered a good performance, particularly in stationery, driven by good growth in Christmas cards, wrap, diaries and fashion stationery.”

“Looking ahead, whilst there is existing uncertainty in the broader economic environment, the group is well-positioned for the year ahead and beyond,” he added.

A 16% rise in total travel sales was helped by its purchase of US digital accessories retailer InMotion, completed in November, and the group said integration was “progressing well”.

InMotion continued to notch up the strong sales momentum seen before the takeover, added WH Smith.

It also added it was making “good progress” on cost savings aims outlined in October, with another £9 million earmarked for 2018-19.

WH Smith announced a restructure to shut a handful of UK high street stores and call time on new initiatives, instead focusing on growth opportunities for its chain of stores based at airports and railway stations.

The review will see it close six stores when their leases expire and wind down its 22-strong budget greetings card chain Cardmarket and franchised convenience store arm WH Smith Local.

Shares in the group rose nearly 2% after its trading update.

Mr Clarke told the Press Association that despite seeing sales fall, its high street performance was still the third best performance in the last 15 years.

He added that consumer spending and confidence was “as challenging as it has been”.

“It’s been challenging now for around five years and we didn’t see it was any different this Christmas,” he said.

Best sellers included its personalised Christmas tree baubles range, with “hundreds of thousands” sold over the period, according to the group.

In books, Michelle Obama’s Becoming was the top seller, with author David Walliams and the latest Guinness World Records book also in high demand.

On Brexit, Mr Clarke said: “We continue to watch it very carefully and continue to plan our business for all eventualities.”

Jonathan Pritchard, a retail analyst at Peel Hunt, said: “Trading has remained decidedly solid through the first half.

“We continue to believe that the InMotion deal in the States is a complete game-changer, opening up a massive new market to WH Smith.”

Press Association

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